CALGARY, ALTA. (July 12, 2012) — Alpine Canada president Max Gartner has hailed the impact made by the first annual Ski Racing Safety Summit, which was held last summer, but is stressing the importance of keeping the momentum going ahead of a second-annual meeting of experts from across Canada.
Leading doctors, scientists, coaches, athletes, equipment specialists and other experts from the ski community gathered at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Alta., in May 2011 with the aim of reducing the number of serious injuries in the sport of ski racing.
Although the summit included discussion about making improvements at the World Cup level, the main focus was improving safety in domestic ski-racing, which was reflected in a series of recommendations put forward at the conclusion of the two-day event. Many of those recommendations were implemented and have already resulted in lasting change within the sport.
“The first annual safety summit allowed us to take a big step forward but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Gartner, who is currently putting together plans for a second safety summit, which is due to be held in Calgary in September.
“Safety is such a complex and multifaceted issue that we need to make sure we constantly monitor our approach. Following last year’s summit, we took a series of recommendations to our stakeholders and began the process of discussing how change could be implemented in partnership with athletes, provincial ski organizations and others.”
A series of recommendations were announced following the conclusion of the first annual safety summit, but it was the decision to put back the age at which Canadian skiers begin racing in downhill, from 16 to 18, that garnered most of the headlines. The move came in response to evidence that the risk of injury is greater in downhill due to increased speed.
With International Ski Federation (FIS) age changes coming into effect for 2012-13 – meaning the age at which young skiers enter FIS competition is now 16 instead of 15 – the downhill age rule has since been amended slightly to apply to second-year FIS racers, who are generally 17 years old.
“This is the responsible way to introduce athletes to downhill racing,” Gartner said. “We want to make sure our young athletes get a solid introduction to speed elements and have the chance to get used to adult ski equipment in a training environment. Athletes need to be ready physically, technically and mentally before they begin competing in downhill racing.”
In addition to the age change, Osisko Going4Gold speed camps were held in B.C., Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick last winter to help teach some of the nation’s best young skiers the skills of downhill racing in a safe, methodical way. Jump progression was one of several elements specific to downhill skiing that young skiers were introduced to at the camps.
“The camps were a great success and more will be held this coming winter to help build athletes’ confidence and develop the skills they need for speed skiing,” Gartner said. “Giving kids lots of repetition in a safe environment will help them to develop a solid foundation on which they can build as they work towards mastering downhill ski racing.
“The camps were run in conjunction with provincial ski organizations and each one featured appearances by national ski team alumni and coaches. Champions like Ed Podivinsky, Felix Belczyk, Brian Stemmle, Kerrin Lee-Gartner and Mélanie Turgeon have an intimate knowledge of speed racing that they can pass on to the next generation. That experience and know-how is invaluable and young ski racers are now benefitting from that at a very important stage in their careers. We were also fortunate to have world-class coaches like Don Lyon teaching at the camps. Their experience and expertise was invaluable.”
Two other recommendations unveiled last May related to snow preparation and course setting at the domestic level. It was resolved that the use of water injection during course-building would be avoided to ensure consistent snow preparation. It was also agreed that there would be a focus on reducing speed when course setting at ski races within Canada.
“The aim this past season was to have a consistent race surface from top to bottom and we were able to build on the work done in previous years and achieve that,” said Philippe Bernier, Alpine Canada’s director of events. “Dan Gallaugher, our race quality co-ordinator, attended races from Canadian championships to Nor-Ams and under-18 championships and our staff were on hill at least two days prior to events starting so that we could work closely with organizers and ski resorts to achieve these goals.”
Several recommendations involving equipment were also made at last summer’s safety summit. Alpine Canada is currently working with specialists from across Canada on a long-term project to conduct safety testing on helmets worn by national-team skiers. That project, which will take place over several years, involves experts from the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University (in Calgary), among others. The use of mouth guards and back braces, which was to be recommended for all ski racers, has also been incorporated into Alpine Canada’s athlete agreement contracts for all national-team racers.
Meanwhile, Alpine Canada is continuing to work on plans to develop a nationwide tracking system for athletes that would monitor physical testing and injuries suffered by skiers of all ages. At the international level, Alpine Canada lobbied for different suit materials to be used at the World Cup level to increase padding and reduce speed – one of the recommendations to come out of the safety summit. Some changes are due to come into effect in the 2012-13 season, Gartner said.
“The safety of our athletes is our No. 1 priority,” Gartner added. “Sports are constantly evolving and changing and we have to make sure that safety remains uppermost in everyone’s minds. As a nation, we want to be a leader when it comes to safety and continue to build on the progress made since the first Ski Racing Safety Summit.”
More details on the second annual safety summit and next winter’s speed skills camps will be released shortly.
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